Superscription. A more literal translation of the verse would be “the (prophetic) pronouncement that Habakkuk, the prophet, saw (i.e., perceived
in a revelation/ vision).” Some scholars consider this title to refer only to chs 1 and 2
, because ch 3
has its own title. It is more likely, however, that
served as a subtitle, whereas
performs the usual role of title and introduction to the entire book.
A dialogue between Habakkuk and the LORD.
This is the beginning of the dialogue between the LORD and a prophetic voice (Habakkuk). The human speaker initiates the dialogue with a series of pointed, rhetorical questions.
The issue at stake is not simply theodicy but the very order and possibility of existence of the world (see below). Nothing
in the text directly anchors the questions to a particular historical situation. The speaker implicitly identifies himself
with the righteous, but not much about them is told. The text is written in general terms so readers may identify with the
speaker and the speaker's questions.
That is why decision fails, probably better, “therefore torah slacks.” The word “torah” here points to the divine teaching that maintains the order
of the world, and that was later understood by traditional Jewish commentators as “the Torah.”
These verses present the divine response to the human complaint. On the surface, it seems incongruous, since it announces
that the LORD gives victory to the Babylonians, who are described by the same divine voice in the most terrifying terms. So not only will
the wicked prosper and have dominion, but even the righteous in Judah will continue to suffer at the hands of a dread and
fierce, wicked power. The divine response, in fact, strengthens rather than weakens the case advanced in the human complaint.
They make their own laws and rules, they take upon themselves a role that is the LORD's (see translators' note a‐a). Still, despite their arrogance, the LORD raises them up.
There is an ongoing debate on how to translate this v. Although several substantially different proposals have been advanced,
the general gist of the text is clear: The Babylonians do not think that their power is established and maintained by the
The reaction of the prophetic voice to such a reply is—as one may expect—a second complaint, one that takes into account the
divine response and the aggravating circumstances that it describes.
The Heb actually says something akin to “we shall not die” or “let us not die.” There is a tradition that the original text
read, “You [i.e., the LORD] never die,” and that scribes changed it because of its embarrassing content. (These emendations are called “Tiqqunei Soferim.”)
There is a considerable debate on how to evaluate this tradition concerning v. 12
, and accordingly, about the wording of the original text of the v. It seems more likely that the v. read, “let us not die”
or the like.
The meaning of the last two lines in the v. is something like “[why do you] remain silent when the wicked swallow those more
righteous than they?” The question is not why one who is absolutely righteous would suffer, but why the hierarchy of people
in the spectrum of righteousness‐wickedness runs opposite to that of power in the “real world.”
This is a reversal of people's role as described in Gen. 1.26, 28
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